Preparation for the inauguration of the Williston Northampton Athletic Hall of Fame — whose first class will be enshrined on Reunion Weekend, June 6-8 — has involved looking at a great many photographs. I hadn’t thought about this much before, but it has recently occurred to me that some sports are more photogenic than others. Before I sink my own ship by suggesting that, for example, all field hockey photos look the same (they don’t!), or that golf images tend to be ruined by golfer’s outfits (can I get back to you?), let me go out on a limb and suggest that one of the sports that has produced an awful lot of really exciting photography over the years at Williston is Track and Field.
There are undoubtedly reasons for this, some of which, truthfully, may reflect this writer’s prejudices. I mean, preferences. So we won’t delve too deeply into the psycho-sociological issues of why, for example, from the photographer’s point of view, helmets and sticks can both be dealt with, but not usually at the same time.
OK, let’s be serious. Is it that track and field athletes, perhaps more than any others, achieve pinnacles of effort and passion that are concentrated in the briefest of durations, perhaps a few seconds, perhaps even less? Yes, this happens in other sports, but I submit — without meaning to diminish any athlete’s accomplishment — that most of the time the brilliant goal-out-of-nowhere, the impossible catch, is reactive. For the track and field athlete, successful execution is entirely studied. And the great jump, the winning acceleration derives from someplace deep within the athlete’s psyche, a place where the soul is quite alone, where all that remains is abandonment to the moment.
Or perhaps this is nonsense. But the camera has captured some extraordinary track and field moments. The older images on this page are the work of William Rittase (1894-1968), a Philadelphia-based photographer who specialized in industrial images, but who did some very special catalog work at both Williston and Northampton School in the 1930s and ’40s. His photos are even more remarkable when one considers that he favored a large-format camera that was not conducive to “action” photography at all.
As many are aware, there is a photographic tradition at Williston Northampton. Bob Couch ’50 mentored student photographers beginning in the 1960s and began to teach photo courses in the ’70s. That program is now in the capable hands of Edward Hing ’77, himself a Couch protégé. We offer seven different photography and film courses plus evening lecture programs that bring world-class photographers and photojournalists to campus. And wherever one looks on campus, there are talented kids with cameras looking back. We’re proud to feature some of their work here as well.
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